City of Berkeley expands public shower program amid COVID-19 pandemic

Vanessa Lim/Staff

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The city of Berkeley expanded its shower program, adding an additional location and extending its hours.

The shower program is a free, drop-in operation offering shower facilities to the public with soap and towels without identification or deposit requirements. The program has added an additional shower site at the West Campus Pool on 2100 Browning St. and the Willard Recreation Administration Hub location has extended its hours to include an additional two hours every day.

The expansion was prompted by the need to provide sanitation facilities for individuals experiencing homelessness amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn. It is one of multiple measures for increased sanitation facilities the city has been implementing to prevent further spread of the disease.

“We want to prioritize the health and safety of the homeless population and we see this as an additional tool to meet that goal,” said Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

According to Elgstrand, the amount of people who have used the showers at the Willard location has increased between March 20 and March 30, averaging at about 25 people a day.

Program staff use personal protective gear and received training on disinfecting the showers after each use, Elgstrand added.

Local homeless activist Guy “Mike” Lee said in an email that the program is “not enough” and that he feels the city should be partnering with the YMCA to provide showers for all individuals experiencing homelessness.

The city of Albany also offers a shower program that provides food, socks and menstrual products to its users, according to Hahn. She added that many members of the homeless community in Berkeley utilize this program.

According to City Councilmember Cheryl Davila, there are no current plans for the expansion to continue after the COVID-19 pandemic. Davila added that the expansion is necessary and is needed outside of the pandemic.

“I’ve been advocating for this for a few years now and I’m really happy it’s being implemented to help and assist with the COVID-19, although it was way necessary before that,” Davila said in a voicemail message. “At least this got it to be enacted.”

LavaMae, a nonprofit, provided showers to homeless individuals in Berkeley in 2019. Spokesperson for LavaMae Carolyn McMaster added that there were low demands for the service and the nonprofit is no longer offering its services in Berkeley in order to direct more attention toward training and other locations.

The city has taken other measures to improve access to sanitation facilities. According to Elgstrand, three new port-a-potties were dispersed around the city April 1 and are cared for daily. Twenty-two new hand-washing stations have also been installed around the city.

“As a general matter, we have really been looking at all of our homeless services during the COVID-19 crisis and making sure they meet the additional needs for sanitation, food, social distances,” Hahn said.

Contact Natalie Gott at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natgott_dc.

A previous version may have implied that the LavaMae location in Berkeley closed only due to lack of use. In fact, LavaMae also reduced operations overall in order to direct more attention toward training and other locations.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that LavaMae was contracted by the city of Berkeley. In fact, they were not contracted.